Pictured: People line up to receive packages containing items for "precautions" against coronavirus, provided by the Basij volunteer paramilitary force, in Tehran on March 15, 2020. (Photo by Stringer/AFP via Getty Images)
The Iranian regime continues to decline taking appropriate measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus that is not only threatening the Iranian population but also people across the region.
During a meeting with Ireland's Prime Minister Leo Varadkar at the White House, President Donald J. Trump offered to help the Iranian authorities fight the coronavirus, but Iranian authorities rejected the offer as "hypocritical" and "repulsive". "We do not need American doctors," Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said.
"If we had limited the travel of people in Qom, since the epicenter of the illness is in Qom, the spread would not have been so extensive... our mistake was that when we discovered that the contamination is in the city of Qom, we should have quarantined the people there and prevented its spread. If we had done so, the virus would not have spread."
Nahid Khodakarami, head of the Health Commission of the Tehran City Council, said recently:
"Two weeks ago, I told Dr. Iraj Harirchi and even Dr. Nobakht [head of the parliamentary Health Committee] that Qom must be quarantined, but they did not listen. There must be restrictions placed on Qom... If we had not given priority to the concerns of the clerics, we would have been in a much better situation."
Massoud Pezeshkian, an Iranian reformist politician, pointed out:
"We should have quarantined Qom from day one. ... This disease is not a joke, which is the way we are dealing with it... The economy and everything will be ruined; it is no joke. What would have happened if they shut down the country for 15 days? If we had done so on the first day, it would not have spread...."
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) have taken charge of dealing with the coronavirus by cracking down on any individual or institution that attempts to reveal accurate information about the origins of the virus or how Iran has become an epicenter of the virus which spreads to other nations.
Agents of the IRGC and MOIS are reportedly present at hospitals, attending meeting among medical staff, and informing them what they are allowed to reveal and what they are banned from disclosing to the public, the media and the international community.
The head of the Health Commission of the Tehran City Council, for example, Nahid Khoda Karami, recently disclosed how she was approached by the IRGC:
"Yesterday, I said that in Tehran it is possible that 10,000 people have been infected with coronavirus. The IRGC intelligence unit called me and complained. They asked, why did you provide this number? I said, sir, how long are you going to cover this up? These numbers are being talked about in society and my saying it calms the situation. Let's be transparent with the people. We shouldn't make this disease a security matter. You don't need to call me and ask me why I divulge some figures. I merely provided some experts' opinions. The IRGC intelligence official told me that I should refer the matter to the Health Ministry. I said, OK, we should increase the pressure on the Health Ministry to be more transparent and to openly express themselves and tell people the facts; otherwise our reputation in the world will be eroded."
The regime has also threatened to imprison people who provide news about the actual scope of the crisis. Hassan Nowrouzi, the Speaker of the Judiciary Committee of the Parliament, said on February 26 that those who "disseminate fake news regarding coronavirus" will be sentenced from one to three years of imprisonment, and lashes.
Even some of Iran's newspapers surprisingly pointed to the restrictions that have been imposed on them concerning what they can report on the virus and what they cannot. The state-run daily Ressalat, for instance, wrote:
"With regards to the number of infected nurses, we cannot release any figures. The statistics are completely security related and cannot be revealed. Even the heads of hospitals might not know the number of coronavirus victims. Even if a victim goes to the hospital, the statistics are not given to the hospital supervisor. There is a special private channel and no one but the Health Ministry officials are aware of the numbers."
Meanwhile, according to reports, for the Iranian New Year, Nowruz, which begins on March 20, Iran has "temporarily freed" 70,000 prisoners who are said to have tested negative for the virus. Some "wrongfully detained" prisoners, such as activists and journalists, who according to Human Rights Watch, "should not have been in prison in the first place," were released; others, who may or may not have contracted the virus, have not. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is also a British citizen, has said she contracted the virus in Evin Prison, but apparently has not been tested.
With their incompetence and attempts to cover up the truth about the coronavirus in Iran, the ruling mullahs have been posing a threat wider than to just its own citizens. Pakistan, for example, which initially left open its nearly 600-mile border with Iran to avoid further damage to its economy, is now trying, among other problems, to track down nearly 8,000 pilgrims who recently returned home from Iran.
On March 15, according to Asharq al Awsat, officials at Iran's Health Ministry announced the latest death toll as 724, with the number of people tested positive at 13,938. Satellite images are reportedly showing coronavirus victims' mass graves, large enough to be seen from space.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a business strategist and advisor, Harvard-educated scholar, political scientist, board member of Harvard International Review, and president of the International American Council on the Middle East. He has authored several books on Islam and US foreign policy. He can be reached at Dr.Rafizadeh@Post.Harvard.Edu